New coalitions of the willing

The for­mer Taoiseach (Fine Gael par­ty) and influ­en­tial polit­i­cal and eco­nom­ic com­men­ta­tor, Gar­ret FitzGer­ald, recent­ly argued that the gov­er­nance of the EU has evolved in a dis­turb­ing direc­tion and that Euro­pean Coun­cil meet­ings on the Greek cri­sis showed that the “big three” of France, Ger­many and the UK now dom­i­nate pro­ceed­ings.11Irish Times: Gov­er­nance of EU has evolved in a dis­turb­ing direc­tion, 3 April 2010, avail­able at: (last access: 18 May 2010). Mean­while, speak­ing at a recent Insti­tute of Inter­na­tion­al and Euro­pean Affairs (IIEA) sem­i­nar on the future of Euro­pean for­eign pol­i­cy after Lis­bon, Mart­ti Ahti­saari and Mark Leonard made the point that many tra­di­tion­al EU respons­es to crises are now off the table.22Video and audio pod­casts of this event are avail­able at: (last access: 18 May 2010). Treaty change is not an option in the cur­rent polit­i­cal cli­mate. Nei­ther will high-mind­ed rhetoric and solemn dec­la­ra­tions suf­fice. Leonard described a world where more infor­mal rela­tions between pow­ers are tak­ing the place of much of the for­mal archi­tec­ture of glob­al gov­er­nance in which the Euro­pean pow­ers, and the EU, have tra­di­tion­al­ly done so well. And he not­ed that this resur­gence in realpoli­tik was much in evi­dence inside the EU’s bor­ders as well as out. Just as the glob­al eco­nom­ic cri­sis has proven that glob­al­i­sa­tion is an asym­met­ric process, so too is it demon­strat­ing that Euro­pean inte­gra­tion is not the same for every­one.

A key point of Leonard’s was that the dif­fer­ence between the surg­ing pow­ers of the devel­op­ing world and the increas­ing­ly scle­rot­ic ones of the West was not one of capac­i­ty but one of will. The EU’s ten­den­cy towards frag­men­ta­tion of pol­i­cy and pow­er has been exac­er­bat­ed by the cri­sis even as the BRIC coun­tries are emerg­ing lean­er and mean­er. His mes­sage to the EU chimes with that of the recent Reflec­tion Group on the Future of the Euro­pean Union: reform or decline.

Talk of a two-speed Europe is often met with alarm in Ire­land, which has always sub­scribed to the idea of a strong, treaty-based Union and would not coun­te­nance the prospect of end­ing up in the slip­stream of a Euroscep­tic UK as a core Europe forges ahead with the Euro­pean project. How­ev­er, there is increas­ing recog­ni­tion of the need for new “coali­tions of the will­ing” in order for Europe to avoid stag­na­tion and move for­ward on var­i­ous issues in var­i­ous ways. Ire­land has been under­stand­ably pre­oc­cu­pied with domes­tic prob­lems in recent months, but as peo­ple here begin to look for­ward to eco­nom­ic recov­ery and polit­i­cal renew­al, they nec­es­sar­i­ly do so in an inter­na­tion­al, and espe­cial­ly a Euro­pean, con­text. There is much talk of how to lever­age Irish influ­ence abroad in the ser­vice of Irish inter­ests, and a strong and activist role in the EU is high up the list of pri­or­i­ties in any con­ver­sa­tion. The Euro­pean Exter­nal Action Ser­vice is a tremen­dous oppor­tu­ni­ty to trans­form Euro­pean, and Irish, exter­nal rela­tions even as the inter­nal EU response to the cri­sis is cre­at­ing new ten­sions and new syn­er­gies between mem­ber states. This shift­ing polar­i­ty is dan­ger­ous for Ire­land inso­far as it cre­ates large struc­tur­al gulfs between the Euro­zone and non-Euro states, but it too affords an oppor­tu­ni­ty, this time to forge new coali­tions and pow­er blocs to coun­ter­act the dom­i­nant influ­ence of the Com­mis­sion and the “big three”. Ireland’s new­found links through migra­tion with Poland and oth­er cen­tral and east­ern Euro­pean states are just one way in which it might try to reju­ve­nate its role in the Euro­pean project.

A smart economy strategy

Because research and inno­va­tion are at the core of José Manuel Barroso’s EU 2020 Strat­e­gy, and Ireland’s own ambi­tion is to cre­ate a “smart econ­o­my” based on strate­gic invest­ments in spe­cif­ic areas of sci­ence such as bio­phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals and green tech­nolo­gies, Maire Geoghe­gan Quinn’s recent appoint­ment as the Com­mis­sion­er for Research and Inno­va­tion was wel­comed in Ire­land. Although Com­mis­sion­ers are pro­hib­it­ed from favour­ing projects in or seek­ing polit­i­cal advan­tages for their home states, it is hoped that Geoghe­gan Quinn’s new pro­file and posi­tion with­in the inter­na­tion­al research and inno­va­tion com­mu­ni­ty will encour­age Irish enter­prise, acad­e­mia and pol­i­cy­mak­ing in sub­tler ways, for exam­ple by par­tic­i­pat­ing ful­ly in her project of cre­at­ing an “inno­va­tion Union”. Mar­tin Schu­ur­mans, chair­man of the Euro­pean Insti­tute of Inno­va­tion and Tech­nol­o­gy (EIT), for exam­ple, says that the appoint­ment rep­re­sents a tremen­dous oppor­tu­ni­ty for Ire­land to enhance its rep­u­ta­tion in this area and should be viewed as a major coup for the State.33Irish Times: EU port­fo­lio a ‘coup’ for Ire­land, 12 Feb­ru­ary 2010, avail­able at: (last access: 18 May 2010). This view is gen­er­al­ly shared in Ire­land also.


  • 1Irish Times: Gov­er­nance of EU has evolved in a dis­turb­ing direc­tion, 3 April 2010, avail­able at: (last access: 18 May 2010).
  • 2Video and audio pod­casts of this event are avail­able at: (last access: 18 May 2010).
  • 3Irish Times: EU port­fo­lio a ‘coup’ for Ire­land, 12 Feb­ru­ary 2010, avail­able at: (last access: 18 May 2010).

The reports focus on a report­ing peri­od from Decem­ber 2009 until May 2010. This sur­vey was con­duct­ed on the basis of a ques­tion­naire that has been elab­o­rat­ed in March and April 2010. Most of the 31 reports were deliv­ered in May 2010.

The EU-27 Watch No. 9 receives sig­nif­i­cant fund­ing from the Otto Wolff-Foun­da­tion, Cologne, in the frame­work of the ‘Dia­log Europa der Otto Wolff-Stiftung’, and finan­cial sup­port from the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion. The Euro­pean Com­mis­sion is not respon­si­ble for any use that may be made of the infor­ma­tion con­tained there­in.